The Lion King Movie Review: An unnecessary remake that spoils the memories of the original
This long-awaited remake of the 1994 classic is bland and lacks the emotional punch of the original
If I have to talk about films that defined my growing-up years, The Lion King would definitely rank at the very top. It is also, in today's parlance, a comfort film. Though it's been 25 years since I first saw the yellow sun illuminating the dark screen, even now, that is all it takes for me to forget about the worries of the world. To say that the film was seminal for animation in general, and Disney in particular, would not be an understatement. So, when the live-action (or should we say photorealistic computer-animated) remake was announced, I wasn't particularly enthused about it. Though the teaser was impressive, the trailer was largely underwhelming and I was hoping against hope that the main film won't be so. Alas.
Cast: Donald Glover, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner
Director: Jon Favreau
While I am not exactly fond of Disney's decision to remake their animated classics, The Beauty and The Beast, Dumbo and Aladdin largely worked. The presence of human characters and human actors helped. Even The Jungle Book had a human protagonist in Mowgli. When it comes to The Lion King, however, you are dealing with beasts from beginning to end. You do not have the charm of Emma Watson or Naomi Scott to save it. So it becomes quite important for these animals on screen to emote so that it connects with you. Remember the fabulous opening monologue of Scar in the original when he plays with the mouse? Remember how much you could connect with his feelings thanks to his facial movements? Even if you leave that aside, remember his utterly unique black mane? None of those could be found in this 2019 version.
That this film is directed by Jon Favreau who did a fabulous job with The Jungle Book was quite shocking. I think the fault lies in the fact that the latter was made with motion capture technology and you could see Kaa's menace, Baloo's nonchalance and King Louie's joyous madness. Whereas here, thanks to the aforementioned photorealistic computer-animation, I could not see Simba's (Donald Glover) happiness or Nala's (Beyonce Knowles) love or Scar's (Chiwetel Ejiofor) ruthless eyes on the faces of these animals. At one point, I couldn't even differentiate between Sarabi and Nala.
One major reason why I am not partial to these remakes are the songs in the classics. Each of these are utterly unique, colourful and cannot be recreated in live-action. The animation provides a fertile ground for imagination and that is what makes them so loveable. If I were to compile top villain songs, Be Prepared from the original would rank only behind Hellfire (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) for me. The song has been re-shot for the newer version as there were complaints that the original, with the marching hyenas in formation, reminded people of Third Reich. While I can understand and appreciate the studio for doing this, the newer version is bland, at best. That this treatment has been meted out to I Just Can't Wait to Be King and Hakuna Matata, the latter especially is one that has stood the test of time as a fan favourite, is quite sad.
It is these moments that largely spoil your watch as the film does have its share of good moments. While the Circle of Life has been faithfully recreated, The Lion Sleeps Tonight is lovely, and the entire Timon (Billy Eichner) - Pumbaa (scene stealing Seth Rogen) stretch saves this film from its mundane existence. I am so happy that they retained James Earl Jones for Mufasa and his majestic voice keeps you rooted in your nostalgia. Also, there are a lot of smaller additions visually as well as story-wise that you are thankful for. Take for example, the shot of Simba walking alone in the desert and his return as a pair through those same dunes - it gave credence to the circle of life theme that is the film's ethos.
The Lion King (2019) was probably the most awaited remake amongst Disney's classics and whence the film should have roared, it instead purrs. Maybe they shouldn't have woken this lion from its sleep.